The following is a true story, more or less, but really more. Names have been changed to protect the innocent triple cheeseburger lady.
Food cravings. We all have them, and they pop up at the oddest times for inexplicably no reason. I was having a wicked craving for Wendy’s French fries. I tried to throttle it back, I really did. I’d drive close to a Wendy’s, slow down a little, miss the turn, and then keep going. I did this for a few days until I finally caved and went to the drive-thru. French fries have always been my Achilles heel of food cravings. I’d eat them with every meal if I could. I’ve cut way back, but every once in a while, nothing hits the spot like a big salty carton of deep fried, fast food French fries.
The drive-thru at any fast food place is usually lined with guilt eaters, so I felt right at home when I pulled in behind a woman who ordered a triple cheeseburger and a Frosty. I’m not judging, ma’am, I’m just here for the fries. Take it up with Wendy’s and their rock concert level speakers. She pulled ahead after getting her total, which left room for me at the speaker.
It was my turn now.
“Hi, sure. A medium fry, please,” I said. My mouth was salivating. I could already taste the hot little sticks of salted bliss stacked in the cardboard box. “No wait—make that a large,” I said. They price these things so that it feels like a waste of money not to upsize and really, what’s a medium if one is having a fry attack? Go big or go home, fry boy. I could hear her voice trailing off in the distance telling me to drive up, but I was already in gear and hugging the bumper of the triple cheeseburger lady.
There were still two cars ahead of me, but I like to have my money in hand when I drive up to the window. I don’t understand the people who seem to be caught off-guard, as if they had no idea that money was required. “Hi. It’s me. Triple cheeseburger lady. I’m sorry; I didn’t realize this was a cash transaction. Hold on, let me rummage through my extra large American Tourister handbag and try to find some money.”
Not me. I like to be prepared. I had to unbuckle the seatbelt to get to my back pocket for my wallet, and as I did that, the buckle snapped up and knocked my sunglasses off the armrest. They fell between the seat and the armrest, which is the vehicular no-man’s land, and home to lost quarters, mints, lens caps, D.B. Cooper, and quite possibly the Ark of the Covenant. I have no idea what’s down there. I’ll find out when the truck is sold, I suppose. Or I won’t. At that point, they can have whatever they find.
As I struggled to fish out my wallet, I hit my funny bone hard on the doorframe, causing my left arm to go hysterically dead. I floundered around, whipping it in the general direction of my left back pocket like one of those inflatable, waving tube men in front of the car dealer. When my hand finally made contact, I pinched out the wallet.
Let’s see. I’ll need three singles. I only have a five. That leaves me two bucks and change until I reload. Are the fries worth it? Should I drive away now and forget about it? Wait, if I have a five, I can order a small fry and the large and still have change. No, this is crazy. Just the large. It’s a craving not the Irish Potato Famine.
Triple cheeseburger lady pulled away and I crept forward, trying not to whack the large truck mirror on the cantilevered take-out window. When I stopped the truck, the little saloon style windows within the bay window burst open, and a gloved, disembodied hand popped out. These tiny windows crack me up, as they are just big enough to get a bag full of fast food from the inside to the outside. If the Keebler elves ever needed to modernize their tree home, this would be the perfect door.
The hand was wearing a latex glove, which all fast food people wear so that human skin never touches food. This is a good idea in theory, but what about the filthy money that I’m handing the hand? I seldom see a cashier remove their gloves, handle money, and then put on new gloves. Why not rub the bills all over my food? Maybe shake some thirty-year-old pennies in with the chopped up salad tomatoes while you’re at it.
This was no time to get biological. I could smell the fries now. We exchanged funds for goods, the window snapped shut, and I pulled away. I have no idea what the person looked like. All I saw was a hand.
I drove a little past triple cheeseburger lady, who was already parked and in the middle of an endorphin high as she scarfed down her skyscraper of meat and cheese. My plan was to pull around to the back of the parking lot, turn on the radio, and enjoy my deep fried swag.
Opening the bag one-handed, I grabbed a single test fry from deep inside. It was scalding hot and fresh from the fry basket. This was the pinnacle of French fry goodness, and a true French fry rarity. It was actually too hot to eat but I ate it anyway with my mouth open, sucking in small gulps of cooling air with each bite.
I carefully parked and pulled out the carton, all set to satisfy this nagging craving when the unthinkable happened. The entire box, hot and wrapped delicately in a paper napkin, inexplicably slipped from my fingers, cartwheeled into the air, and landed upside down on the floor mat. The fries then bent in slow motion and the resulting spring action sent the cardboard box in the other direction, leaving a pile of hot, delicious French fries lying bare-naked at my feet.
I sat there in a numb stupor, staring at the French fried pile mingling with my shoes and whatever other floor debris was down there, as the smell drifted up and only made it worse. I was torn. Three second rule? Get a fork and eat the top layer? Go in for more or just go? After about a minute of stunned, indecisive incredulity, I put the truck in reverse and left.
The smell of fresh, hot French fries was overpowering the truck cab and stuck to my clothes. My wife and our dog would both know where I had been, which for no reason at all, only added to the guilt. I’m a grown man. I can eat whatever I want, so why would a clandestine box of fries instill such shame?
I checked the cardboard box to see if one may have been trapped in the crease, but it was empty. When I got home, I opened the truck door and scraped the sad mound of fries onto the driveway with the side of my foot. The steam rose up off of them and drifted away. Here you go, squirrels. Would you like some ketchup?
I went inside and made myself an angry sandwich and ate it with some potato chip crumbs from the bottom of a bag that was buried in the back of the pantry.
The next day the fries were gone, no doubt discovered and enjoyed by hungry critters of some kind, so I’m glad they weren’t wasted. A few days later, I stopped back to Wendy’s, got another box and managed to eat them without incident. As I held up the cardboard box and slid the few remaining fries straight into my mouth, I felt good. No guilt, no French fry craving, and the urge was finally satisfied. I could now drive by Wendy’s and not even think about it.
I was good for a few weeks, when Mrs. G. and I stopped at Wendy’s to grab a quick bite. Our planned dinner of salmon was still frozen solid and it was getting late and we were both hungry. We ordered the senior citizen’s special—two cups of chili, two baked potatoes and two glasses of water, neither one of us really wanting to be there.
“Will that be all?” the cashier asked.
“And a medium order of fries,” I blurted out with the same anxious excitement that Ralphie used when he finally asked Santa for a BB gun.
When we got to the table, Mrs. G. went back to get some sour cream for her baked potato. While she stood there waiting, I went at that box of fries like a bear on a honeycomb. By the time she got back, there were no more than a half dozen left as I sat there with fry carnage hanging out of my mouth. “Waa-wee. Di oo wah won?” I mumbled. I knew she did, but in my defense, I did save her six, and I didn’t feel at all guilty for not sharing the rest. In fact, I was quite proud of myself. It took a lot of self-control to save her that many.